The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror

The Monster Show A Cultural History of Horror Illuminating the dark side of the American century The Monster Show uncovers the surprising links between horror entertainment and the great social crises of our time as well as horror s function as

  • Title: The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror
  • Author: David J. Skal
  • ISBN: 9780571199969
  • Page: 212
  • Format: Paperback
  • Illuminating the dark side of the American century, The Monster Show uncovers the surprising links between horror entertainment and the great social crises of our time, as well as horror s function as a pop analogue to surrealism and other artistic movements.With penetrating analyses and revealing anecdotes, David J Skal chronicles one of our most popular and pervasive moIlluminating the dark side of the American century, The Monster Show uncovers the surprising links between horror entertainment and the great social crises of our time, as well as horror s function as a pop analogue to surrealism and other artistic movements.With penetrating analyses and revealing anecdotes, David J Skal chronicles one of our most popular and pervasive modes of cultural expression He explores the disguised form in which Hollywood s classic horror movies played out the traumas of two world wars and the Depression the nightmare visions of invasion and mind control catalyzed by the Cold War the preoccupation with demon children that took hold as thalidomide, birth control, and abortion changed the reproductive landscape the vogue in visceral, transformative special effects that paralleled the development of the plastic surgery industry the link between the AIDS epidemic and the current fascination with vampires and much Now with a new Afterword by the author that looks at horror s popular renaissance in the last decade, The Monster Show is a compulsively readable, thought provoking inquiry into America s obsession with the macabre.

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    1 thought on “The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror”

    1. Just in time for Halloween, and what better book to review?You can't go too wrong with a book like The Monster Show, what with Edward Gorey covers and a healthy bit of each era, though the author does tend to favor silent and classic horror films. Not that there's anything wrong with that!A sharply-written, well-researched and intriguing look into what and who made horror films what they have become - how they grew and changed with the fears, taboos and interests of the people.There are good bit [...]

    2. Wow. I just noticed another review of this book somewhere below: "Reads a lot like a history book. Couldn't get interested in it." Yes, I imagine a work subtitled A Cultural History would read a lot like a history book, wouldn't it? Horror fans, in my experience, too often write like perennial adolescents, and it's certainly rare to encounter one who can authoritatively call upon Freud, Fiedler, Fussell, Sontag, and Pound, among others, as does David J. Skal. Some of the detours in The Monster S [...]

    3. Going through the 20th century, looking at horror movies as important folkloric symbols. Connecting this mythology to world events and shifting culture. Things we can't face, we create monsters to personify.I think everyone knows that Godzilla represents post nuclear anxiety in Japan. But a lot of this stuff I hadn't thought much about before I read this the first time (less than a decade ago, but never mind that). Of course the modern iteration of vampires is about AIDS.Of course 1970s horror w [...]

    4. I have tempered enthusiasm for this critical text on horror films. Simply due to how extensive it is, this book is essential reading for the horror film enthusiast; however, Skal relies too heavily on the research of his predecessors. and he never voices any disagreement with what they've said. The result is a hodge-podge of theoretical paradigms that are often contradictory, and in the case of the Freudian readings, arguably outmoded.If Skal had updated the theoretical basis for his analysis an [...]

    5. Highly recommended for all horror fans. Although I missed some more info on art since this was a study in visual horror there were many interesting points made and Skal's writing is engaging. Too bad I didn't have time to read this in one day, I really could have. PS. Shame on me but I had heard of Vampira only briefly somewhere and now I found out she was Finnish and used to hang out with James Dean!

    6. I didn't think I'd get through this hefty 400+ page volume so quickly, byt Skal does a great job shedding light on some classic horror films (the early sections dealing with Tod Browning are fantastic). Chapter 8's Drive-In salute is worth the cover price alone. MUST reading for any horror film fan.

    7. The Monster Show draws some interesting parallels between the on-screen horrors of Dracula and Frankenstein and the realities of American life, referring to 1931 as America's worst year of the century, but its best year for monsters. Or as the American writer Gilbert Seldes said of that time period, "The rich could still go to the South Sea Islands, but the poor went to the movies."

    8. Overall I think Skal does a great job of analyzing the great eras of horror films. His passion certainly shines through. What I would criticize though is his obsessive fixation on his "Dark Twins" (Dracula and Frankenstein). Throughout the whole book I got the feeling that of all the horror films that came after them, no matter how little evidence Skal has to show for it, the post-1931 horror classics are good because they're like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" (or somehow inspired by them). I als [...]

    9. A very enjoyable history of American horror in the 20th century. The book gives a thorough account of many high points in horror, starting with macabre circus and sideshow acts and going up to movies like Silence of the Lambs in the 90's. I am fascinated by connections between horror trends and the social conditions that fostered them and, for the most part, Skal does a good job of explaining these. Unfortunately, he stretches at points too, and makes some pretty tenuous connections. He also has [...]

    10. there are a few paragraphs in chapter 11 that are really transphobic/transmisogynistic (p 322-323 in my copy). there were a few other problems throughout the book such as the use of slurs. but other than that i liked it

    11. A wonderful book that will let you know the Genesis of horror film along with history moments that nurtured this movie genre. The style of the author, feels more like a conversation and you won't notice how fast chapters slip trough your fingers. Even if you are not into horror films, but you like film history; this book is perfect to introduce yourself in this movie genre

    12. In many ways this is a difficult review to write in that it will be conflicted.The title of the book suggests that it is a cultural history of horror. When you say a cultural history it implies many different forms of media but Skal concentrates mainly on film for the first two thirds of the work, at the expense of other mediums. We are regaled with tales of Hollywood insider baseball and that is not really a cultural history of horror. Horror films of the 20th Century, yes of horror, no.The las [...]

    13. If you like monster movies, any kind and time period, or melodrama or theatre fantastique, this is a must read book. For those who are not a keen fan of the above genres this book is a fun and informative introduction to those kinds of movies and their history. It also shows were movies went to and where they may go next. For myself I have never called myself a horror fan, indeed when I became aware of movies of this kind the flavour of the decade was slasher flicks or teenager horror flicks. Th [...]

    14. Monster Show es una excelente y amena crónica del devenir del horror en la cultura popular estadounidense del siglo XX, con un énfasis particular en el cine, las historietas y las novelas populares. El panorama que nos presenta es exhaustivo, desde el cine mudo, hasta el splatterpunk de fines del siglo XX, con temas y personajes recurrentes (Todd Browning y los freaks, Drácula y la criatura de Frankenstein, los grupos censores, el terror como metáfora del lado oscuro de una sociedad "perfect [...]

    15. Good, not great, but probably one of the best books about popular horror culture we are likely to get. I'd say this is equivalent to Stephen King's Danse Macabre. It's not comprehensive by any means. It leaves foreign horror largely forgotten, unless it considered some British censorship board banning an American movie. And it does not cover the importance of horror fiction that led to the movies' underlying stories. Some of the chapters are, well, tooapter-ish. And there are a lot of preconceiv [...]

    16. As a history book it's great - you get all the important names in the american horror, stories behind movies and personalities in an exciting and well-written narrative.As a study of the phenomenon of horror it's not so great. My beef with Skal is that he interprets all movies in two ways - freudian or as a metaphor for the state of the American society. He doesn't give the creators any credit, he almost doesn't care about the design, the actors, the camera work, the enjoyment of suspense and su [...]

    17. Pretty brilliant. Awesome minor stories told in the book include the weird friendship between Vampira and James Dean, the staging of a Broadway musical version of Carrie which turned into an epic flop, Bela Lugosi's trysts with Clara Bow, a brief history of thalidomide birth defects and there are many, many more. He uses two major figures as framing devices for the book - the circus performer turned Hollywood director Tod Browning, and the photographer Diane Arbus - and its really effective. The [...]

    18. A solid cultural history of horror. A warning on reading the book was published in 1993 and updated in with an afterword in 2001, this means it is missing some essential and interesting developments in the world of horror. This is particularly true as to the books main theme of war as the basis for the horror tastes of a generation. The last decade would bring much material to the development of that thesis. Even with its end date it does not give sufficient emphasis to some of the later horror [...]

    19. This book was astounding in how in depth and well researched it was. Skal goes all the way back to pre-Dr Caligari, which is where most horror retrospectives begin. Whereas most people think horror movies started with Dracula in the 1930's, there were the European silent horror films and Lon Chaney and the like. I learned more about Tod Browning and the making of Freaks than I ever would have thought. It was this huge emphasis on the pre-Dracula era that makes this a must read for any thorough h [...]

    20. David Skal is an acknowledged expert on scary things, and I very much enjoyed his history of horror. Although it includes forms beyond horror movies, films are the backbone of the book. Insightful and full of insider information, this is an eminently readable account of how horror became a cultural phenomenon. It reaches a bit further back in history than some other treatments, and is fairly comprehensive. As always, you can pick out the author's favorites, but that doesn't prevent the reader fr [...]

    21. Monster Show is an enjoyable sociological interpretation of horror movies in the context of war, social upheaval, economic downturns, the sexual revolution and Reagan's '80s.The emphasis on pioneer directors such as Todd Browning and James Whale is also understandable.I particularly enjoyed the chapter "it's alive unfortunately", a take on overpopulation and loss of control over our bodies The Omen, Prophecy, Alien, Children of the Corn,Rosemary's Baby,all suggest offspring may be threat to the [...]

    22. Skal presents us horror in its earliest toddling steps to its adulthood from the 1910s to the 1990s (I wonder what he would have to say about the genre in the twenty first century during its midlife crisis) and he does so in an engaging, in-depth way. The book is incredibly dense and it's definitely not something you can bolt through, you have to take it slowly in order to soak up all of the information or else it will drop out of your consciousness within a matter of moments. There were instanc [...]

    23. It took me a while to chew through this book, mostly because the pages are packed with a lot of interesting information about the fears of the American public being reflected through cinema. The author is quite wordy, but the words are crucial to deliver the story of how horror and America evolved through the ages. This book was assigned to me via a Gothic Cinema class, where the instructor assigned various chapters to read. I'm glad to have come back to read the book in its entirety, as I now f [...]

    24. I finally got around to reading the revised edition. I had read the original when it first came out, and found the book to be very insightful for how it related the horror genre to cultural trends in America. The book is very idiosyncratic; you can tell Skal has written volumes on Dracula and Tod Browning, and that he doesn't care at all about 1960's European horror. The book is not comprehensive; there is a lot that's missing, and Skal's discussion of the films never gets much deeper than a sup [...]

    25. Very readable history of horror focusing primarily but not exclusively on film. Like much of so-called cultural studies, Skal is far too fond of master explanations and facile analogies, e.g. WWI amputees and the patchwork Frankenstein, or zombies and Vietnam. Such arguments are most engaging when they go beyond simple analogy to cultural traumas films themselves consider, Cf. The Black Cat and the Skal's discussion of it. For anyone beginning a study of film horror, this is a good place to star [...]

    26. For covering the cultural background for 70 years of horror cinema 400 pages, I'm astonished how thoroughly Skal fit in just about everything I wanted to know for an introduction. I'll be sure to return to his writing. Not only is he thorough, but he also writes with vast knowledge, a friendly voice, and a passion for the subject which radiates from every word. Certainly more detailed books exist on every era and film addressed, but for the giving the gist of how horror and culture have walked h [...]

    27. An interesting long-form look at how horror films reflect the fears and anxieties society won't (or can't) discuss, "The Monster Show" is likely to resonate most with genre fans. Author David J. Skal certainly takes some liberties in assigning the same reactions to world events and cultural changes to every member of a society, but I found his discussion broad enough to still be applicable. Some great interviews and anecdotes throughout -- really a useful, interesting read for someone with any l [...]

    28. Extremely interesting for hardcore fans of social-history and/or horror and, to a lesser extent, film theory. It's a tad front loaded and a disproportionate amount of time is spent on Dracula (1931) and Tod Browning. Being that Skal has written books completely devoted to both, this is not a shocker. A lot of people will talk about what this book lacks and glosses over, but what is included is well written and very rarely gets too heavy handed. I really enjoyed it.

    29. A fascinating account of horror cinema and its sub-culture, from its beginnings right up to the 1990s.The book explores how the horror movie has always acted as a kind of magical mirror of the times, reflecting the fear of war, of epidemic, of destitution. It also takes into account the moral backlash against horror from those in whom the fears are most deeply ingrained.It's an absolutely fascinating study of cultural anxiety and the long shadows it casts.

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